On March 11th, 2011, Kosuke Kuji, the fifth-generation president of Nanbu Bijin Sake Brewery was aboard a bullet train heading towards Sendai when it came to a sudden standstill in the middle of a tunnel. After a couple of hours it was announced that there had been an earthquake and that the train could not move. The passengers were evacuated 24 hours later, and taken to a shelter in Fukushima prefecture where they saw on television the devastation that the earthquake and tsunami had caused. It took Kosuke a few more days to get home to Nanbu, in the north of Honshu. The brewery was far from the coast and escaped damage from the tsunami, but the top of the chimney had collapsed and the stone wall along the back of the mountain face was broken in places. Aftershocks damaged the roof and landslides are still a worry to this day. Yet luckily, not one sake tank fell over and none of the stored bottles was broken during the quake.

During the blackout, the koji (malt) room lost power and could not be heated. Left like this, the malt would die so they brought in an old Darma stove and continued the malt-making process. The staff members were unable to go to their homes and ended up living at the brewery for a time. Supermarkets in the surrounding area ran out of all foodstuffs and at the brewery they began to run out of their own food stock too. They did not have to worry about starvation, though. In the warehouse they had raw rice stockpiled in the tons. Under normal circumstances it would be illegal to consume the sake rice, but it was a state of emergency. Kosuke made rice balls and distributed them locally, saving many local people from starvation while they were waiting for relief goods to be delivered.

 One month after the earthquake the whole country was in a state of mourning and the idea of self-control spread stagnation across the entirety of Japan. Television stations began to not broadcast business commercials, Japanese citizens refrained from holding parties. It was at this time that Kosuke uploaded to YouTube a video letter from the disaster area of Iwate, addressing the people of Japan. He highlighted the problem of ongoing economic damage and encouraged people to buy and drink the area’s sake. The message spread rapidly through social media, and was soon taken up by national broadcasting stations. The “Reconstruction Prayer, Tohoku’s Sake Fair” spread across Japan, and was an important step on the road to rebuilding the country after the disaster. The brewery staff continued to work and continued to ask themselves, what can those of us who were allowed to live, do to help? “We cannot give up and say we have nothing and therefore can do nothing; we are still alive so we must take what we have and do what we can”. 

Since having been inspired as a student during time in the USA, when he realized that he was blessed to be born into a family that owned a brewing company with a history of over 100 years, and that Japanese products were gaining global popularity, Kosuke has been a trailblazer who has helped spread awareness outside of Japan about the different classes of sake. He started the Sake Export Association (SEA), which was later joined by 20 other kura that were serious about overseas expansion, and he also initiated the nihonshu (Japanese sake) awareness campaign. Nanbu Bijin now exports to 23 different countries, which accounts for about 10% of their total production, but Kosuke hopes that his pleas for reconstruction in the Tohoku and Kanto Eastern areas reach the wider world, as “even now Fukushima breweries suffer from harmful rumors”. 

establishment and key dates

1902 Established

Water source

The east Oritsumedake mountain (altitude 852m), Oritsume-ba Senkyo subsoil water (medium 

hard water)

Rice varieties

Gin-Ginga (Iwate Brewing Rice/Ginjo Sake use), Gin-Otome (Iwate Brewing Rice/Junmai Sake and Honjozo sake use), Yui-no-Ka (Iwate Brewing Rice/Daiginjo use), Miyama-Nishiki (Iwate), Yamada-Nishiki (Iwate), Aiyama (Iwate), Omachi (Iwate)

Koji type

Higuchi Matsunosuke Shoten, Akita Konno Shoten

Yeast type

Iwate Joban-ni, Kyokai No.7, No.9, No.1801

Aging process

Tank aged, Koshu: stored in 1 sho 

(1.8 liter) bottles


The Annual Japan Sake Awards: Gold Award 27 times (1956–1959, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1973, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1981, 1984, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1998, 2001–2003, 2006–2011, 2013, 2014)

The Spring Iwate New Sake Review Competition: Ginjo Division: Gold Award (2001–2013), Junmai Division: Gold Award (2002, 2004–2007, 2011, 2012), General Managers of Zenno Award (2003, 2007), Ginginga Division: Gold Award (2002–2007)

Junmai Sake Top Award: Junmai Daiginjo Division: Nanbu Bijin Junmai Daiginjo – Top Gold Award (2012), Junmai Ginjo Division: Nanbu Bijin Shinpaku Junmai Ginjo – Top Gold Award (2012)

Nanbu Toji Home Brew Seishu Review Competition: Top ranking (2001, 2002), Honor Award (51 consecutive times up to 2010)

Iwate New Sake Review Competition in Autumn: Ginjo Division: Gold Award (2010, 2011, 2013), Junmai Division: Gold Award (2010, 2011, 2013)

Tohoku Seishu Review Competition in Autumn: Ginjo Division: Gold Award (2001–2007, 2009, 2012), Junmai Division: Gold Award (2001, 2003–2005, 2010, 2013) 

Tohoku Seishu Review Competition: Ginjo Division: Honor Award (2001–2003), Junmai Division: Gold Award (2004), Honor Award (2001)

JOY OF SAKE Tokubetsu (special) Junmai Sake: Gold Award (2008, 2011–2013), Daiginjo: Gold Award (2004, 2006, 2010), Silver Award (2005, 2007, 2013), Entrance Award (2009), Junmai: Gold Award (2007, 2010)

Monde selection 8 years consecutive Grand Gold Medal Award Winner (1997–2004)

IWSC Daiginjo Division: Trophy Top Award (2007)

WWC Daiginjo: Gold Award (2009)

Specialty of brewery

Nanbu bijin

annual production

3000 koku (540,000 liters)

Contact details

13 Fukuoka Kamimachi, Ninohe-shi, 

Iwateken 028 6101

T: +81 195 23 3133, F: +81 195 23 4713

E: sake@nanbubijin.co.jp